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Pieces are there for Sounders to continue offensive run

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Lodeiro and Ruidíaz were already producing at an elite level; will Morris’ addition push the attack even higher?

MLS: New York City FC at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Whenever Garth Lagerwey is asked about potential additions to the offense this offseason, the Seattle Sounders GM and President of Soccer often makes sure to point out a few things.

One of his favorite statistics is that the Sounders averaged better than two goals a game over the second half of the season. The offensive performance fueled what was a record-breaking sprint to the finish line in which the Sounders set a MLS record by going 14-2-1 in the second half and 16-2-4 after the start of July.

The other is that the return of Jordan Morris from knee surgery is the equivalent of making a big signing. While it’s true that Morris is now two years removed from his Rookie of the Year campaign, he does give the Sounders the type of speed the mostly lacked last year.

Taken together, it’s not hard to see why Lagerwey is bullish on the Sounders’ ability to boast a potent offense.

It’s one thing to take those statements and simply accept them. Digging into the stats does provide more reason for confidence, though.

Just how good was the offense?

To do it any sort of justice, it makes sense to split the Sounders’ season into two parts. One was before Raúl Ruidíaz joined and the other was after. As luck would have it, the Sounders played the same number of MLS games (including playoffs) before and after Ruidíaz’s debut.

In 18 games prior to Ruidíaz’s debut, the Sounders managed just 16 goals and were shut out nine times. They averaged .89 goals per game, which ranked dead last in MLS (at that point in the season, no one else was even averaging as little as 1.00 goals per game).

In 18 games after Ruidíaz’s debut, the Sounders scored 40 goals and were shut out just twice. They averaged 2.22 goals per game during that stretch, easily the best in MLS (the only team to average even 2.0 goals per game from that point forward was Atlanta United).

To put another way, the Sounders went from the league’s worst offense to one that would rank among the league’s best ever if maintained for a full season.

The South American connection

While I’ve written extensively about my contention that the offense had already begun to improve by the time Ruidíaz showed up, it’s undeniable that he kicked the team into a previously unseen gear. Ruidíaz’s performance does deserve some closer inspection, though.

After a somewhat slow start in which he scored just one goal in his first five appearances, Ruidíaz went on the kind of scoring tear that would have been unbelievable if not for Josef Martinez’s existence. Ruidíaz scored 12 goals over his final 11 games, including three in two playoff matches. His goals per 90 during his debut season was .90, which notably did not include a single penalty. Martinez averaged .96 goals per 90 during his record-setting campaign last year, but that dropped to “just” .71 if you exclude his penalties.

What might be even more encouraging to Sounders fans is that Nicolás Lodeiro’s production also took a rather massive upturn after Ruidíaz’s debut. Lodeiro started the year off struggling, scoring just two goals and registering five assists in his first 12 appearances. In the 17 appearances he made after Ruidíaz’s debut, Lodeiro had six goals and 11 assists.

Combined, Ruidiaz and Lodeiro’s production was basically on par with what Martinez and Miguel Almiron did (and they were the most productive offensive duo in MLS history).

Productive combos

Player Goals Assists minutes G+A per 90
Player Goals Assists minutes G+A per 90
Lodeiro 6 11 1348 1.14
Ruidiaz 10 1 1098 0.90
Combined 16 12 2446 1.03
Almiron 12 14 2760 0.85
Martinez 31 6 2898 1.15
Combined 43 20 5658 1.00
Almiron-Martinez stats are for the 2018 regular season.

The X-factor

The working assumption is that Lodeiro and Ruidíaz will be joined by Víctor Rodríguez and Jordan Morris in the attack. In order to maintain the level of attacking prowess they showed during the stretch run, the Sounders will likely need to get similar production out of those two as Atlanta United got out of Hector Villalba and Julian Gressel. That pair produced .55 ga90 for Atlanta last year.

Cristian Roldan performed admirably as a right-sided midfielder, providing a sort of two-way balance that no one else in the attacking band was capable of. His production from that position was also a bit underrated, as his three goals and three primary assists as a right mid average out to about .39 ga90. Combined with Rodriguez, they were averaging about .48 ga90.

The big question will be if Morris can help push the Sounders close that gap. Morris’ career ga90 is actually a little worse than Roldan’s as a right mid last year. But if Morris is able to reclaim the type of production he had in 2016 (about .48 ga90), the Sounders could suddenly find themselves in elite company.

More than the production, itself, Morris does promise to add an element to the attack that was missing previously. At least on paper, the Sounders seem to like the idea of Morris sprinting up the right side of the attack and stretching defenses in ways that no one else on the roster can. That could help open the field for the other attackers even if Morris isn’t producing at previous clips.